KYLIE Wiblen is philosophical about a startup journey that has seen her both taste success and question her existence.
"There are no mistakes, only lessons, and if you are strong enough and brave enough to know you are doing what you are passionate about, there are ways forward," says the Hunter mum.
In 2013, Ms Wiblen accidentally knocked a cup of herbal tea into her bath, prompting her to research the idea of bath "tea bags", filled with Himalayan bath salts, essential oils, flower buds and botanicals. She soon started MaeLaine - a nod to her daughters' names - and tested her hand-made product at local markets.
"I engaged a graphic designer for branding ... and while the products are hand-blended and made I wanted it to have a luxe finish," she says.
Beginning with her first stockist, Blackbird Corner in Cooks Hill, she built her stockist list to 50. By Christmas 2016 she put on a staff member to meet demand in her studio. But as the market shifted, her sales dropped.
"I went from having creative funky blends to realising everyone was wanting natural products, so I had to align with health and wellness," she says. "I had seven bath tea blends and bath salts and was trying to diversify and build, but the feedback from clients and stockists was that they loved it but found it hard to choose," she says.
"It was a matter of streamlining it - more is not always better. But because I had been buying more oils, botanicals and so forth, my cash flow was stretched."
Battling to repay a micro-loan, she sold her IP to a Melbourne startup: "It was a means to an end. I couldn't see a way out or understand why I had so much success then this plummet," she says.
She got a new micro loan and redesigned her product to be more in tune with consumers, including introducing jars to help in the re-use of bags. But when the concept didn't fly on the market, where competition had also grown, she sought external advice from Hunter Futurepreneurs founder Cheryl Royle in a bid to stave off closure. The advice she got after analysis of her business data was to return to her original product - albeit with the eco-friendly twist of using unbleached bags.
Ms Wiblen has re-launched her business with a bespoke bath teabag named Love, with rose quartz crystals inside as a keepsake. She's also made test-tube bath salts for sale at florists, gift hampers and retreats.
"I launched with a single blend to see if the market is still there and so far orders are coming through and I have picked up new stockists," she says. "I know now that I need to work on a strategic plan for the business rather than working on it."
She remains dedicated to her product, designed to restore "me time" for busy people and help their general wellbeing.
"Sometimes being alone and having a bath is all you need to recharge," she says.
"It's the small things that have a real impact on our wellbeing."
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