scorecardI was a divorced mom to college kids in my 40s. Now I run my $34-million supplement company.
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I was a divorced mom to college kids in my 40s. Now I run my $34-million supplement company.

Polly Thompson   

I was a divorced mom to college kids in my 40s. Now I run my $34-million supplement company.
Careers4 min read
  • Maxine Laceby was a stay-at-home mom for 25 years, until a moment of clarity sparked a major change.
  • Her company, Absolute Collagen, is now the UK's leading liquid collagen supplement.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Maxine Laceby, founder of Absolute Collagen. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I grew up in a single-parent household, with an alcoholic mother. We had nothing. I left school at 16 and after working in a factory and a clothes shop, and eventually ended up doing sales and marketing for a small hotel just outside Bath in England.

I met my now ex-husband at the hotel and was married by 25. He was successful and there was no need for me to work. I was a happy stay-at-home mom for 20 years.

I'd always had business ideas but couldn't get them moving because I had children to look after. As a mother, I'd wake up every day and think "Who does everyone need me to be today?"

I finally found time for myself in my mid-forties

My husband and I split when I was in my mid-forties. By then, I'd stopped doing the school run. It was finally time to put myself first.

When your kids leave home it can be frightening having all that free time, but I found it liberating.

I went to college to study fine arts. For one project I didn't wear makeup for four months. It made me feel ugly and invisible. I thought, if I was going to strip myself bare for this project, I needed to feel good on the inside. I started making bone broth from scratch.

It gave me a sense of well being. My eyes were sparkly, I had a spring in my step, and my skin became so dewy.

I noticed jelly forming on top of the broth and realized this hero ingredient was collagen.

Bone broth was a gateway to starting a business

In 2015 I made big vats of bone broth and gave it to all my friends. It dawned on me that if they were enjoying it, why can't everyone? I was a single parent who was not making money, so I decided I would start a collagen supplement business.

Darcy, my eldest daughter, was studying food science and had access to a lab. We started working on a formula for a collagen supplement in our kitchen.

We found that marine collagen was far superior to the collagen in broth and in 2017 launched Absolute Collagen. The business was self-funded. I'd sold jewelry, borrowed money, and remortgaged my house.

In everyone's eyes, we were an old woman and recent graduate with no business experience. But we believed in our product.

I told my girls: "If it goes tits up, we will have to sell the house and buy a smaller one."

It was never about becoming a very successful business

We just got on with the job in hand. We had this product and we knew it worked.

The house was full of collagen and the first batch had to be thrown out because it expired before we could sell it. I kept overpaying people because I'm no good at finances.

Growth happened because I took considered risks. I knew that our customers, or "Absoluters" as we call them, should be at the forefront.

So, even though everyone was saying we had to be in retail, we kept it all direct-to-consumer and were early to offer a subscription model. I was also adamant that the price had to be reasonable.

It was a new market and a new way of doing things, but offering a great product and getting it straight to our customers worked. We didn't do any publicity – only pushing our customer success stories on Facebook and Instagram.

We made $630,000 in sales in the first year selling only our supplement. By the second year, we had sales of $3 million.

Gradually, we brought on new people for finance, social media, and digital marketing. After a few years of keeping our heads down and working hard, we moved out of my garage and into a warehouse.

In 2020, we started looking for outside investment. I didn't want investors who offered the most money. I wanted investors who shared my business outlook and could look me in the eye when shit hit the fan.

That investment was a turning point for our small business. We made $34 million in sales last year. Our team of 67 people works out of a warehouse triple the size of our first one.

People don't underestimate me now I have experience

Women are underestimated in business, but the most underestimation comes from themselves. We're very humble and that's beautiful, but it doesn't do us any favors.

That said, no one took me seriously until I was turning over $16 million. Unfortunately, it's also true that only 2% of funding in investment goes to females. It's not a lot.

That's why I want to use my success to be there for other women. I'm part of a group called Buy Women Built, a movement of all female-founded brands that help one another.

Business isn't hard; it's just bloody hard work. All you ever have to do is the next right thing – and don't cut corners.




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