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How this gutsy entrepreneur is surviving a COVID-19 crisis

Pearl Chan and Resparkle's Covid start-up story


New research shows entrepreneurship stumbled in 2020.

·       43% of people know someone who stopped a business because of the pandemic.

·       Only 25% know someone who started one.

But there was also the “COVID start-up.” An established company forced to start again.

Pearl Chan’s Resparkle eco-cleaning products company was 8 years old when COVID-19 hit.

Sales initially boomed, but plastic bottles ran out nationwide.

  •  “In Jan and Feb we sold out all our stock within a month or so, with orders like 50 bottles of disinfectant. But then I couldn’t secure additional plastic bottles. There was a huge shortage in Australia, and China wanted a 100,000 bottle commitment.”

Without stock the Melbourne-based entrepreneur had come to a crossroads.

  •  “At the time I’d just adopted a baby and I was tempted to focus on being a mum, but the fact that I’m all about sustainability and want my son to have a cleaner future…I wanted to pick myself up and do Resparkle, only I didn’t want to order plastic bottles.”

Pearl did pick herself - and got innovating.

She asked herself, What about if there’s no liquid? I can pack them in paper! Why can’t hand wash or dishwash come in a powder? The customer can add clean drinking water at the other end.

Working remotely with a chemist, Pearl developed powder concentrates that, without the liquid, could indeed be sent in paper. Water is added by the end user.  

Pearl’s commitment was cemented when she decided to buy her own packaging machine.

  • “I wanted to maintain control because my experience with a contract manufacturer had led to some of the problems of supply.”

But that meant selling their home.

  • "I spoke to my husband and said should we give it one last try? It was literally ‘ride or die’.”

Pearl said she was wasn’t just personally happy to be plastic free – she saw so much potential.

A cash injection from selling her and her husband’s home gave her $250,000 to pump into the rebirthed business (including a packaging machine). By October, they were up and running again.

  • “Right now, we are just burning cash, we are increasing revenue 20% month on month, and 75% of people are coming back for refills,” she says happily.
  •  “The most important is the repeat business – we sell a starter kit with glass bottles.
  •  We can refill less that you can buy your supermarket brands. The response is positive – it takes up no space, and people are buying 8 months’ supply at once.”

 Pearl says Resparkle’s growth path right now is doubling down on the range. They’re planning a crowd funding campaign later this month, and running a big marketing campaign #choosebetter.

  • “It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference, it all comes down to our daily choices. This is how we address climate change.”

 Pearl says she will also tell her story to build brand love, getting people to understand how far she’s come.

  •  “What happened in COVID-19 really drove me down to the core. I had to know my why, that’s what makes you bound back. My why was becoming a mum –saving the planet for the future, for my son.”

COVID start-ups bring alive the saying “Never waste a good crisis.”

 It reminds us to be bolder, braver. 

Sir Richard Branson didn’t make a name for himself by playing safe. Conceived in 1970, his Virgin Group has gone on to grow successful businesses in many sectors.

• They include mobile telephony, travel and transportation, financial services, leisure and entertainment, and health and wellness.

• In 2004, Sir Richard established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group.

Don’t miss a conversation with Sir Richard Branson.

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