Ava Matthews | Alumni | Mountbatten Program

Ava Matthews

Ava Matthews

Entrepreneurial Alumni

Program:  New York

Intake:  March 2010

Current Role:  Co-Founder, Ultra Violette

Describe your business and your role within it

I, with my business partner, have just founded and launched a skin-protective brand called Ultra Violette (ultraviolette.com.au), a range that combines skincare ingredients with high powered SPF protection and is created for everyday use – they’re beautiful to wear under makeup, they’re hydrating, they aren’t thick or greasy or whitening, they don’t make you break out or sting your eyes. We are both directors but have split responsibilities – I look after marketing, creative, branding, collaborations, design, website, and my business partner handles logistics and operations including fulfilment, legal, finance. We both share strategy and product development!

How did you get into this line of business?

I started my career in consumer PR and communications, and then transitioned into brand and marketing strategy for beauty brands in Australia. I moved to Melbourne after my Mountbatten experience in New York to work for the biggest beauty retailer in Australia, Mecca. There I was placed in a role managing their private label brands that meant I had visibility and exposure to every area of the business – which included Product Development, finance, marketing, sales, legal, people (almost like a GM of a brand) and I met my business partner there. During our time at Mecca, we spent a lot of time creating products in the sun category, and we came to realise that SPF is, without a doubt, the most important product in a skincare range, especially in Australia. And, long story short, we set out to develop the best SPF brand in the world.

How did you go about setting it up and getting established?

It wasn’t easy!! We decided we were going to do it a few years ago and that we were really serious about it, and at the beginning it was a bit of slow trickle. We probably spent almost a year fleshing out the positioning and the proposition and what the range would look like and how we were going to finance it. But it was definitely a journey – neither of us could afford to quit our jobs then and there and dedicate all our time to Ultra Violette like we would have wanted to so we both left Mecca and went elsewhere and spent the next 2 years having weekend or after work meetings and emails. Thankfully after a little while of doing this, my partner could drop down to 3 days at her job and thus spent 2 days on the brand to get it going – this is especially important for the product development side. Sunscreens are registered through the TGA in Australia which is the same body that governs medicines so there are lots of hoops to jump through there in terms of testing, efficacy etc etc. So it’s not as simple as making a moisturiser or cleanser (which isn’t simple in its own right!) and the testing standards for SPF in Australia are the most rigorous in the world (for good reason). It can be a very lengthy process! So that was all going on in the background for about 18 months and finally I took the leap and quit my job in November 2018 to dedicate 2 months to getting this off the ground. We pre-launched in December and sold out and literally launched yesterday and it’s been so exciting and scary but so wonderful.

What else is in the pipeline?

Tinted sunscreens, a SPF spray that can be used to top up during the day, and potentially a body lotion with SPF. We’re always coming up with ideas -we just need the cash to get them off the ground. It’s a very expensive industry because you hold so much money in stock.

What has been the proudest moment in your working life thus far?

Definitely the launch of Ultra Violette – without a doubt. I’ve had a great and fulfilling career up until now, but there’s nothing like not having to be at a desk all day or to sweat for something and see it do well.

What has been your biggest mistake/learning experience?

Oh goodness, there’s been a few. 1) I’m not a detail person. AT ALL. In fact I hate it but learning to get comfortable with small amounts of detail has been a struggle, but beneficial. It’s expensive to reprint thousands of bottles if you’ve missed an error!!! 2) not listening to my gut and not speaking up when I know something isn’t right or if I know it could be done a better way. It is hard to really listen to your instincts because often there’s fear involved and that influences a decision, but you need to learn how to tune in. It’s a skill I’m still developing!!

Any words of advice/wisdom would you impart to others thinking of setting up their own business

1) don’t jump unless you’re sure and you can survive financially. You’re going to struggle with cash flow once you launch so there’s no point in making the situation worse for yourself by doing anything prematurely. Work after hours or on weekends to get something running before just jumping. 2) if you have an idea, it’s always great to soundboard it with people you trust and admire – feedback is really important and can make things better and stronger. This is not the time to be proud. 3) do legal/trademark checks, there are some things worth investing in at the beginning and one of them is probably a lawyer. Especially if you’re a product brand, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re being sued OR you’ve created something and spent a lot of money on it and have to redo it all. 4) Find your people. Whether it’s a business partner or 2, or an unofficial “board of advisors”, people who can advise you or help in an area where you’re not skilled is CRUCIAL. Credit to people who can do this alone but it would be SO hard. 5) invest in your partnership (if you have one), the strength of the team will ensure a more successful business in the end. It will be one of your most important relationships. 6) this is an oldie but worth mentioning, whatever you’re doing is going to cost more and take longer than you think it will. Just accept it. 7) learn from your mistakes (again, has been said before) but don’t dwell on them. Fall off and get back on the horse – quickly.