Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Kiri Yanchenko, the founder of AMPERNA® - we are an Australian Active Probiotic Skincare brand committed to creating active products specifically formulated for even the most sensitive skin, so they can be used by everybody.
I am passionate about health & wellbeing. I hold graduate qualifications in Visual arts, Graphic Design, and User Experience as well as qualifications in Fashion Styling from The Australian College Of Professional Styling. I have over 15 years of experience in the design industry with skills across project management, end to end delivery of content, leadership and strong technical abilities. I have also taught marketing & social media. I enjoy the fast-paced online world that the beauty industry now enjoys plus I also speak Japanese!
I felt that there was a gap in the market for no nasties active products that helped people who also suffered from skin concerns like acne, perioral dermatitis, dermatitis, rosacea, etc that weren’t strong suppressive medications. I also saw that no one was really talking about a truly holistic approach to skincare.
AMPERNA® products combine natural actives with the tried-and-tested ingredients of modern science. Our current hero ingredient is our active probiotic complex, Lactococcus ferment lysate. Our products are free from nasties, including but not limited to: sulfates, parabens, aluminum, synthetic fragrance, synthetic colors, and bleaches. AMPERNA® products are made in Australia.
Since we’ve launched we’ve doubled our revenue quarter on quarter and I’m hoping this trend continues for a while! Our number of clients is also increasing exponentially as word of mouth and our marketing help to create brand awareness. The brand is not only gaining traction in Australia but also internationally with our second highest sales in New Zealand and third highest in the USA. We’ve sent products everywhere from Iceland, Croatia, and China to name a few.
We have also just launched a Holistic Skin Coaching Service.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I was nearly 30 I became my father’s sole carer. He passed away before he was 62.
During this period of intense pressure, I was prescribed medication to help my skin and my stress levels. I reacted to this medication; three of the side effects were severe pustular acne, skin hives, and weight loss. I was then admitted to the hospital. My skin went from normal to unbearable almost overnight.
After leaving the hospital; when I was offered more medication from professionals, I decided to review my whole lifestyle, taking a holistic approach to my health. I started researching diets and a healthy lifestyle; I went through the process of cutting out everything I shouldn’t be eating and reassessing everything that I was using on my skin. Going through the process of identifying certain triggers to my skin problems and helping myself took two years.
Having an authentic brand voice is worth its weight in gold, as is being honest and transparent.
My skin reacted to many common irritants in skincare. I was looking for an ultra-gentle skincare range that contained key active ingredients but couldn’t find one. I noticed a link between gut health and skin health and I decided to put that concept into my own products.
During the testing phase of AMPERNA® when I was working with a chemist I developed Perioral Dermatitis. I formulated to help my own skin. After 5 years in R&D, AMPERNA® launched in February 2018. We are in business to help people.
We are entirely self-funded; my design and marketing background helped somewhat. And my business partner and husband is an automation specialist so his skills have helped as well. However, we did lots of little short courses to help us along the way. I also have quite a few business mentors.
Two of the five years of start-up were spent working with a chemist on formulations and we tested with the public before launching our first 5 products.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The process to start up was a longer one than I would have liked because I still needed to work full time.
I approached the whole concept for my brand and products from a consumer’s perspective. I know what I like about a business, about customer service so I wanted to roll all that into my own brand. I also designed and formulated, with the help of our chemist, products that I wanted to help my own skin that I felt didn’t exist.
Three of the five years were spent working on a business plan, doing market research and buying lots and lots of products to test on my own sensitive skin. I did a huge amount of product and ingredient research. I also spent hours looking through online medical journals.
Initially I only wanted to formulate one product, however, the concept grew because I decided I wanted to help people and create a range of products that were able to be customized depending on your skin concern. Therefore we launched 5 products that can be used in different ways depending on the time of year, your skin and your skin concern.
The packaging was easy - as this is my background. So this all came together quickly. I hired a design team to help me with branding after we nailed our brand strategy. AMPERNA is trademarked and it is Ampoule and derma put together - I came up with this with word association so I could really own the brand. Our products are extremely unique and actually finding a suitable manufacturer was a bit of a challenge.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We hired a PR agency for the first 6 months after launch. Our go-to-market strategy involves marketing through social media, word of mouth, targeted online advertising and distribution through select stockists with the goal of helping everybody feel comfortable in their own skin. At the moment we target people with problems and sensitive skin due to our unique value proposition. However, we will be expanding this and marketing to our 5 customer personas in time. We want to help everyone in a holistic way and this has been driven by the experience I had whilst I was severely ill and trying to help my own skin.
We focused on getting media attention, Facebook and social campaigns. We used SEO and Google Adwords to drive traffic to the website. Our current website is the website we had at launch with a whole lot more content on it. As I mentioned my business partner is a programmer - and he has coded the website and looks after SEO and Adwords.
I mentioned above that we are entirely self-funded. We used our house deposit to fund our business and haven’t needed credit cards or loans since we are now running at a profit.
We’ve started to see more word of mouth helping us lately - creating a great product that people love really helps with that.
I think the biggest lesson I learned was not to be wanting everything to be perfect. Now that I am looking at developing more products and after the launch of the Holistic Coaching Service, I know that MVP is ok and you can refine as you go in some instances. Not being afraid to ask for help as well. I have lots of phone calls and meetings with my mentors and connections I know. Just ask for something - people can always say no.
Another big thing I learned was that I didn’t need to work with people I didn’t feel right working with - so I guess another big point was that I learned to trust my gut instinct.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Providing a great product, packaging and customer service.
Going above and beyond to help people with their skin. We use our blog as a way to become an authority. We publish two blog posts a month on topics linked to health, skin health, trending health/skin topics and anything our customers have asked us about what we can turn into an informative piece to help others. This helps with our google ranking and SEO/Adwords strategy so it is a good way to acquire new customers. However, the blog is also a good resource for our existing customers as well. I wanted to create a brand that combined all the elements I was searching for when I had problem skin. I also wanted to have great customer service which nurtures existing clients - bad customer service is something that turns me away when I am looking to purchase myself.
Getting media attention. I have a database of contacts that I have developed during the course of our R&D period and now since we have launched. We release press releases regularly, and I also attended a short course for help with getting media coverage. It is really important to develop personal relationships with the people in the media directly related to your industry. We send out the product to our contacts all the time as well. Keeping your brand top of mind is always important. Another important thing is to spend time going to events so you can network and find new media and industry contacts.
Offering incentives for reviews like discount codes and discounts for referrals. Since the change in the social media landscape, we have stopped advertising on Facebook and Instagram and have focused on SEO and Adwords.
We also wanted to be an honest and transparent source of holistic information so keeping our blog updated with interesting information and great recipes means people like to visit the website. If customers have something they want - you work hard to provide it for them.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
After a year in business, we broke even and switched over to Pty Ltd.
Now we are profitable and are seeing more and more sales via word of mouth and Google Ads. Our conversion rate is quite high at 5-7%, and people spend quite a bit of time on the site looking at all our holistic information. Time on our website varies from 5 mins for someone who knows what they are going to buy to 30 mins when reading all our content.
The Google Ads’ return rate is probably about 500% and at this early stage of our business, we are doing quite well with 300% sales growth. Our campaigns tend to be very targeted in the keywords that we’re using. By keeping the scope relatively narrow we’re gaining a much better CTR and Conversion Rate than we would be with broad search terms. This means for a smaller spend we can reach our target audience and not waste clicks on people who have mistakenly clicked on the ad while looking for something else.
We plan to expand our bricks and mortar stockists overseas. We have a few stockists here and are now working with a chemist in NSW. I plan to develop new products and hopefully hire someone to help with the business soon.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I hired the wrong person to design the brand right at the start, however, I realized my error and ended that relationship before having it cost me very much. I learned very quickly that it is really hard to forecast when you have just started out as you have little to no data to help product and marketing forecasting.
Some good decisions have been to start a Tribe influencer campaign, to give away free products, to constantly send out press releases and contact media and partner with like-minded businesses on social media to gain traction there now the algorithm has changed.
I am sure there has been a little of the in the right place at the right time for our business, but I wouldn’t say luck. My husband and I work very long hours on the brand, however, I find it very rewarding as we are helping people so it doesn’t seem like work.
I made the decision to hire someone to help me with content very early on and that was a great decision as they are great to work with. I always make time for myself now; I make sure I go to the gym and eat well and also practice the holistic principles I talk about when talking to my customers.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our website is based on Shopify however it has been custom coded. The apps we have plugged in are DHL, Google Shopping, Product Reviews, Smile: Rewards & Loyalty and Cart Convert.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- General Assembly was a very big help when I was getting started. We did lots of short courses there.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
- Profit First
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Having an authentic brand voice is worth its weight in gold, and being honest and transparent. Spending the time to develop great products. However, it is invaluable to know your market and your target market.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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